ICANN has responded to the Registerfly mess with a 15 day notice else lose accreditation.
As long as ICANN is acting as an advocate for the community of internet users it is good to see it actually taking positive steps such as this one.
But compare this strong and constructive response of ICANN's VP of Services with the way that ICANN's "ombudsman" cowered when the same issues were raised at an earlier date.
The Tactyldactyl (also spelled by those who can't spell as tactildactyl) is a large bird - prehistoric in size. Everyone agrees that Tactyldactyls are brightly colored, but no one seems to be able to say what the colors are. Perhaps every Tactyldactyl is a different color and pattern? And their cry, seldom heard, is said to be something between that of a Loon and a cat's purr.
Flying alone or in groups, Tactyldactyls watch for unsuspecting prey. They are particularly fond of children, especially grumpy children who won't share their toys with their friends.
Tactyldactyls have a most unique form of attack: The Tactyldactyl silently swoops down, often during bright sunlight, and tickles its victims into submission. Once satiated on its victim's laughter the Tactyldactly flies back to its lair. The victims always recover and usually look forward to another visit from the Tactyldactyl.
Tactyldactyls are rarely seen; most senior tickleologists believe that, with the tendency of children to remain indoors (usually playing video games), that Tactyldactyls could become extinct.
Tactyldactyls are not related to their near cousins, the Technodactyls, but they are always willing to sit down (as much as a bird that large can sit down and still maintain its dignity) and share a cup of tea with their good friends the Ductyldactyls.
This is a continuation of my previous note, "Registrars and Customer Service - Three Comments - Part 1".
One of the two letters was from David Maher of PIR, the registry handling .org.
I have great respect for David Maher - he's one of the "white hats". But in this instance I believe he is going down the wrong path.
Perhaps the most important sentence of his letter was this:
While I recognize that the registrar function is best served by a competitive business model, the Internet has become too important to all its users to allow pure competition to set the standards for customer service.
When it comes to domain names under ICANN we have never ever had a "competitive business model".
What we have had is a highly regulated marketplace in which there is little real choice between domain name products - ICANN has dictated many of the terms of sale, ICANN has dictated the major price components (reserving a hefty chunk for registries such as PIR and for ICANN), and ICANN has severely constrained the number of vendors in the marketplace.
In other words, we are already living in the world in which there is not pure competition, indeed no real competition at all, except on a thin price margin above the core cost components that ICANN reserves for registries and for ICANN.
Why is this so? Why are we consumers of domain names to be treated as children and not allowed the full possible smorgasbord of domain name products that vendors might create?
Let me be even more specific - By implication my proposal for a domain name product, my .ewe TLD, is a danger to the internet because it does not follow ICANN's rules.
But I deny that new, and different, ideas such as .ewe represent a danger to the stability of the internet. Yes, such ideas pose a danger to the business stability of the current ICANN-approved incumbents, but we have never as a modern society accepted that there should be such protected marketplaces absent a clear, compelling, and clearly articulated reason for such protection.
So what I would like to hear is this: What are the reasons that require NTIA and its secular arm, ICANN, to require that the domain name marketplace be wrapped with restrictions and limitations that effectively turn the domain name marketplace into a medieval guild?
I'm not willing to accept vague platitudes - I want to hear specific and concrete reasons. And my measure of stability is based on the technical ability of the internet and the upper tier of the domain name system to turn DNS query packets into DNS reply packets with dispatch, accuracy, and without prejudice for or against any query source or query target.
I am sure that someone will raise the bogeyman of business failure of a registry or registrar causing hapless domain name owners to become orphans with names that no longer work. To me that's a business issue, or a consumer protection issue. The resolution of such issues is a governmental legislative matter, not something for a body whose role is technical coordination. And there are easy, non intrusive answers to this - my own suggestion is that those registries and registrars that want to demonstrate a commitment to protecting their customers actually engage in data escrow programs and yearly audit themselves and post a statement attesting that they engage in adequate data preservation practices that a successor in interest could pick up the pieces and restore operations. Consumers can learn to look elsewhere if a registry or registrar does not do these things. This kind of self-protection on the part of consumers would be greatly enhanced if ICANN were to remove its existing rule against long-term registration contracts.
This is a continuation of my previous note, "Registrars and Customer Service - Three Comments - Part 1".
One of the two letters was from Tim Ruiz of GoDaddy. The gist of this letter was that the number of registrar complaints received by ICANN really was not significant enough to suggest that there is any problem with how registrars behave.
The number of complaints cited was 10,000 during 2006.
Sounds like a lot.
Sounds like a lot more when we realize that it is a rule-of-thumb of marketing and sales that for every customer complaint there are nine more who are angry but silent.
And it sounds like a lot more when we realize that a large number of domain name consumers are professional monetizers who are probably in bed with, or at least in the bedroom with, the registrars they work with - complaints from this quarter are probably rare.
That means that we are talking about at least 100,000 upset domain users out of a pool that mounts to those who actually use domain names as long-term stable identifiers - a pool that probably amounts to perhaps 10 million at best - so we are talking about a complaint rate of at least 1% per long-term domain name client per year. That's a pretty significant problem rate, especially when measured as the expectency of a long-term domain owner over the lifetime of his/her ownership.
And the number of complaints seems even bigger when we realize that there are a lot of issues that people have simply learned to accept without complaint. For example, was there a complaint when GoDaddy became a tool in a dispute and yanked someone's domain name, with 52 seconds notice?
And there are a lot of people who have simply given up - either because they don't know to whom they should complain, or have complained in the past and found the system to be a bowl of futile hope, or simply don't realize that they have been scrod.
So, from the same numbers I draw the opposite conclusion - I perceive that we have a serious issue between that part of the public who use domain names for what they were originally intended to be - long term stable identifiers on the internet - and the registrar/registry system that sells (or rents) those names.
Bret Fausett's Lextext has a short note, "Registrars and Customer Service" that refers to two letters to ICANN's President, Paul Twomey.
Later today (tonight) I will try to comment on the contents of the letters themselves as I think they reflect some important perceptions or misconceptions about ICANN and its role on the internet.
In the meantime I'd simply like to mention that in the past letters such as these would have tended to be addressed to the chairman of ICANN's Board of Directors. Not only were neither of these letters so addressed, they did not even carbon-copy the Chairman.
I believe that this is reflecting a shift in the perceived locus of authority within ICANN.
With the term of ICANN's Chairman, Vint Cerf, in sight, and with ICANN's Board continuing its passive role, ICANN is ever more an engine driven by its President.
Personally I like Paul Twomey - I think he is a very intelligent, educated, effective and talented person. He's like a Caterpillar D-11: If you point it (or Paul) at some obect, that object is most certainly going to be changed.
My main complaint with regard to ICANN's President is that his considerable talents have not been well directed or channeled by ICANN's Board of Directors - and that is a problem that comes from the Board's submissive role within ICANN.
Yesterday we discovered that our new kitchen hood - consisting of a fan with a speed control, a light with a dimmer, and a timer - needed to be rebooted.
Wow, a kitchen hood that can do, much less needs a software reboot. That's pretty amazing.
But not so amazing as this fact: ICANN's self-emasculating ombudsman has established a blog! Against this, a range hood that can be rebooted becomes unremarkable.
Is this blog going to be sequence of excuses? If so, it has certainly gotten off to a good start. Will it be a mirror of the ombudsman annual report - a glorified litany of trivialities leavened with excuses why nothing real was done to redress ICANN's institutional disregard for its own rules?
And yet ICANN's own board members - people who's fiduciary duties contains an element of responsibility to consider the effects of ICANN upon the public interest - continue to feel institutionally constrained from interacting with the public.
Board members are supposed to be the real ombudsmen. They are supposed to be making inquiries into the activities of ICANN and unlike a hired ombudsman are legally empowered to do so. But no, ICANN's board acts more like a panel of worthies who have aged into passive somnolence.
My range hood has a reset button. Where's the reset button for ICANN?
ICANN has instituted a house blog - a house organ - sort of like Pravda during the era of the Soviet Union.
So ICANN is asking "What does it take to run a TLD registry?"
That's a disingenuous question.
Is it asking "What does it take to run a TLD registry?" under ICANN's amazingly complex and intrusive system of business and price regulation?
Or is it asking "What does it take to run a TLD registry?" in a marketplace that is free of intrusive regulations established, via ICANN, by incumbent competetors and outside interests who do not want innovation or expansion of the internet's domain name system?
It turns out that to run a TLD registry under the latter conditions is pretty easy. It is relatively easy to establish, or hire, a worldwide array of name servers. And it is not that hard to build a registration system that serves the expected customer base.
What is hard is being forced to build out an array of servers and registration infrastructure that has to serve a customer base the size of .com under the business rules established by ICANN.
Take for example my own TLD, .ewe. I anticipate that it will provide domain name services for far less money than is possible under ICANN's rules. And it will offer a broader range of services.
But I can not go into business with .ewe, at least not realistically. That's because ICANN holds the keys to the only viable marketplace. And unless I abandon my business plan and do it the way that ICANN demands I have no chance of getting ICANN's approval. It would be a waste of money even to apply and ask.
So in answer to the question from ICANN's house organ - "What does it take to run a TLD registry?" The answer is obvious: ICANN should step aside, let innovators innovate - a few will succeed, some will fail - and we will find out what it takes to run a TLD registry.
A few years ago an old acquaintance called me up and said that he had gone to work at Netli. I went to visit and found the people at Netli to be imaginative and their ideas interesting.
I recently heard about the acquisition of Netli by Akamai - I hope my acquaintance will be making a goodly amount of money.
Part of what Netli does is to replace TCP with a proprietary protocol between what are, effectively, HTTP proxies. This kind of innovative deployment of ideas is why the end-to-end principle and The First Law of the Internet are so important.
However, there are concerns. Over the years the TCP protocol has been refined through the addition of congestion detection and congestion avoidance mechanisms. A properly implemented TCP engine will degrade the performance of its individual connections in order to protect the internet as a whole.
TCP implementations that don't follow these congestion rules can be considered as taking unfair advantage of the good graces of those TCP implementations that do.
I do not know any details of Netli's protocol so the concern that I express below may or may not have grounding in fact. But even if Netli has done it right, others may not.
The internet works because it is a vast statistical multiplexor. As such it is sensitive to saturation by streams that do not notice congestion, much less back off when congestion occurs. This is not a conjectural concern; when I was inventing and implementing IP/TV a decade ago we saw the negative effects of heavy streams of video RTP/RTCP (UDP) packets that kept coming at full rate even when a router or link had become saturated.
A similar situation existed long ago on coax-cable based Ethernets - some Ethernet controller chips (such as some from Sun Microsystems) seemed to have more aggressive timers than those used in PC's. The effect was that an ethernet that worked fine among PC's suddenly became unusable for those PC's, but not for the Suns, when one or more Sun machines was attached
My concern is that those, like Netli, who design TCP alternatives ensure that their protocols play fair and don't try to take advantage of protocols that do back off in the face of congestion.
I live in a hollow in the hills; we can not get broadcast TV. Our cable TV provider is awful. So for the last few years we have been using Direct TV to receive satellite feeds.
We've been reasonably happy with the service - that is until we decided to go to High Definition.
The dearth of HD material is disappointing, and there are the FCC's stupid rules that effectively deny feeds of HD programs from the broadcast networks. Neither of these are really DirectTV's fault.
But this note is about what happens when a provider, such as DirectTV, begins to consider its customer base as captive. It seems that we may be in for a lot of this as last-mile distribution systems - telcos, cable TV operators, and satellite providers - begin to feel their oats. The recent attempts by internet providers to fight network neutrality is one aspect of this.
One of the effects of this kind of provider hubris is a disregard for product quality and customer satisfaction. A case in point is the the DirectTV HD DVR. It is one of the worst pieces of equipment I have ever used. It is the Yugo of DVRs.
I have two Direct TV standard definitions Tivos - which are easy to use, and reliable. But when I signed up for Direct TV's HD service no Tivo HD DVR was available; my only option was to get the Direct TV's own brand, not based on a Tivo engine.
The menus of the DirectTV HD DVR are confusing, inconsistent, and frustratingly slow. Some things, such as jumping around a recorded program in big steps, are either non-obvious, difficult, or non-existant.
Programs that one asks to be recorded often turn out to be blank.
There is no speculative recording - so one does not get the serendipity factor found with a real Tivo.
And some marketing dweeb decided to cover it with blindingly bright blue LEDs that, even after the user turns them off, get reset when new software is loaded - which occurs several times a week.
If there were real competition for customers it would be hard to imagine any company releasing a product as bad as the DirectTV HD DVR.
Will most internet users soon find themselves coerced into using weak products? I believe that unless we require network neutrality - in the sense that user's rather than last-mile providers get to make choices about traffic handling - and unless the internet remains firmly based on open standards that we are likely to find that DirectTV HD DVR is a harbinger of things to come.
Now that our president has instituted a system of political commissars to ensure that all administrative decisions by administrative agencies adhere to executive political correctness one wonders what will happen to NTIA and its imposition of anti-competitive and anti-innovative regulations via its unacknowledged child, ICANN?
Under this order, many, perhaps most, administrative decisions (which includes decisions not to act) will have to be submitted to, and approved by, a new "Regulatory Policy Office" run by a politically appointed "Regulatory Policy Officer". In other words, just like in the old Soviet Union, the government will be seeded with political commissars whose job is to ensure that the presidential party line is followed.
There is no doubt that under this new executive order NTIA will have to submit its decisions and polices regarding ICANN to the Department of Commerce's "Regulatory Policy Office" and its Regulatory Policy Officer.
ICANN, and NTIA's policies with regard to ICANN, are anathema to the ideals of free enterprise and limited government. One might hope that these are among the political ideals of our current president (and any president). Will these new political operatives look to those ideals or will they simply allow the NTIA status quo, a status quo that imposes a government sponsored guild onto the internet, to continue?